For all those whose ears I have not yet chewed off about it: The Moonlander is a split, mechanical keyboard with an ortholinear key layout (for tons of more details, just look at the website). According to the tracking emails, it has been a little over 3 weeks since it arrived at my house. As I have been using it as my daily driver since then, I think I can make a few observations about it.

The Ergonomics

The ergonomics of the Moonlander were what initially convinced me to buy it. I had just spent all of May assembling a rough draft of my Master’s thesis. This, of course, involved lots and lots of typing. At the time, I was using a Ducky Zero with Cherry MX Blue mechanical switches. While it generally is a fine keyboard, I was noticing that typing on it required me to take a somewhat uncomfortable posture: Wrist close together, shoulders pushed forward and, in the later hours of the day, somewhat hunched over. As it seems like the next 40 to 50 years of my life will likely involve a lot of typing on keyboards (Ugh!), it thus seemed like a good idea to look for one that does not cause any undue physical stress.

So how are the ergonomics? From what I can tell so far, very good! I now usually sit with my hands shoulder-width apart and my back straight, a much more comfortable posture. When I’m typing for a long time, I sometimes move the two halves of the keyboard around my table to vary how I am sitting (no idea if that is actually a good thing to do, though). In that regard, my expectations have been fulfilled 100%.

A topic that I am feeling a bit more mixed on is the physical layout of the keys on the keyboard. I had been warned in advance that an ortholinear keyboard layout might not actually feel as good as advertised. Fortunately, this did not come true in this case (however, this might be a bigger issue for non-split keyboards). As pointed out in this review of the Moonlander’s predecessor, the ortholinear layout will definitely take some time to get used to. Even now, there are keys I regularly misstype (particularly ‘z’ and ‘b’ on my keyboard layout). However, you only really feel how much more comfortable ortholinear keys are when going back to a “regular” keyboard. A few days ago, I had to do something on my laptop, which of course has a normal staggered keyboard, and it did not feel good at all. Ultimately, how much of this is a matter of ergonomics and how much is a matter of familiarity, I really cannot say. To me, the ortholinearity is neither here nor there: I could not tell you if I would have missed it if it were not there.

Another interesting important question is: How many of the keys are comfortable to reach. For reference, my hands are quite big but my fingers are not very nimble, so YMMV! In addition to a regular keyboard worth of keys for your 4 typing fingers, each half of the Moonlander also comes with a whopping 4 keys meant to be operated by your thumb. One of those (the big red one) is placed so awkwardly you might as well not count it (making it only 3 thumb keys). Unfortunately, I have not even been able to find a hand placement that allowed me to comfortably type while reaching any but the highest-placed thumb key. Heavy use of the others (i.e. multiple times per minute) would always eventually lead to some discomfort. This is quite sad if you, like me, had many cool ideas of what to do with the other two thumb keys. As I lay out in the next section, the pain of “losing” those keys is greatly lessened by the fact that the programmability of the keyboard allows you to do many neat things, even without them.

The Programmable Firmware

In my opinion, the coolest feature of the Moonlander is the fact that it runs on a fork of the open source keyboard firmware QMK. This goes beyond mere aesthetics, of course. It is easy, and indeed encouraged, to modify the firmware to your liking and reflash your keyboard with it. To do this, you do not actually have to modify the C code (which is a royal pain in the ass) but can instead use the graphical configuration tool provided by ZSA. Usually, the modifications you make to the firmware govern the backlight behavior (Ew!) and which keystrokes send which signals to the computer. The latter allows you to program your keyboard layout directly into your keyboard, rather than having to rely on software translation to make it work, which is quite neat if you use some arcane layout which is not present on all or most machines (Couldn’t be me!).

At this point, we should talk keyboard layouts. The Moonlander ships with a default layout designed by ZSA. Given what I have said about the reachability of the thumb keys, this is an absolute clown show! Important keys, such as backspace and escape, are assigned to keys that are awkward or even painful to reach. I personally do not recommend using this sort of layout. Instead, I made my own layout (Indeed, preparing your layout while your keyboard is being assembled and shipped turned out to be a very good idea!). As the name suggests, it is very much inspired by the Neo2 layout, which I have been using for over 5 years at this point. A quick glance at my keyboard layout will reveal that I am not using all of the keys (indeed, I am using only roughly half of the keys available). This is because reaching any of the other keys require me to lift my hands off the wrist-wrests, which I find pretty annoying. Instead my layout uses the clever trick inherent to Neo2: Hiding away keys behind modifiers! For example, to hit the Enter key, I need to hold a modifier with the other hand. While this takes some getting used to, it means your hands can always remain in the home row position, only single fingers moving away from it. I would personally recommend everyone to use a keyboard layout of this type, even using Neo2 on a normal keyboard is already a big step up from the usual QWETX typing experience.

The QMK firmware itself has one amazing feature I want to highlight: dual use keys! This means you can program keys to work differently depending on whether you “type” them (quick press and release) or keep them held. For example, the thumb key of my layout acts as the space bar when pressed and as shift if held (on both sides). This is incredibly useful for all modifier keys. My home row, again on both sides, is all dual use keys for Alt, switching to the Symbol and Function layer of Neo2 and Ctrl. While keeping “typing keys” pressed to use them as modifiers takes some getting used to at first (I always got the different modifiers confused during the first week with this setup!), it is incredibly comfortable once you have ingrained it. To me, this feature alone justifies buying the Moonlander as it allows you to greatly reduce the amount of hand movement involved in typing.

One problem I ran into with all this is that the graphical configuration tool, called Oryx, is that it works much better for US keyboards than other keyboard. As you might be aware, different keyboard layouts interpret the same key codes differently. For example, I need to set my computer to the usual German layout when using my Moonlander because I want to be to type “Bötchenstraße”. This means I need the key I want to bind the letter Z to to send a “German Z” (= “US Y”). For this, Oryx helpfully allows you to use such international key codes when programming your keyboard. This saves you the pain of having to “reverse engineer”, for example, which key code X the letter ö corresponds and then configuring your ö key to “be” the letter on the US layout which produces the key code X. Unfortunately, these international key codes are not available for some of the more advanced features of Oryx, such as macros. While I had to work around this only once, it is still mildly annoying (and typical US cultural imperialism, you might say).

Everything Else

This section is a collection of good and bad things I want to talk about which don’t really fit the previous two sections.

As far back as the day when I bought the Moonlander, I was already bothered by some of its features. Curiously, this is not for lack of features but instead because it has features I do not want! You see, the Moonlander’s grandfather, the ErgoDox EZ, was highly customizable. This included two optional douchebag showoff features: very fancy backlighting (for all those gamers out there) and blank keycaps (for all those touch typists). As it happens, my showoff tastes love blank keycaps (“Look ma, no looking!") and hate backlighting (and the capital G Gamer Culture associated with it). Likely to streamline the assembly process, ZSA have made the Moonlander less customizable than the ErgoDox. Unfortunately, they did this by including backlighting in all Moonlander keyboards and only shipping “printed” keycaps (more precisely, those with transparent letters backlit keyboards have). This is exactly the wrong way around! I am still debating ordering a bunch of blank keycaps to at least alleviate half of the problem. Of course, this is no real criticism but rather some guy’s opinion. Maybe a little more critically, backlighting always being included also means you always have to pay for it, making an already expensive keyboard even more expensive for a feature many users might not care for.

The keyboard is made to order. That means, it may take up to 2 weeks for your keyboard to get made (in my case it was about 1 week) before they even ship it. The shipping, however, is extremely fast. Given that it was shipped from Taiwan, I was expecting the usual 4 weeks things off AliExpress take. To my surprise, the keyboard arrived only 3 days after its assembly! That means I had to wait about 2 weeks after ordering to receive it, which was OK. Because the package was shipped via UPS, I was also able to pay the toll when the package arrived at my doorstep instead of having to liberate my package at some facility, which can often be an additional annoyance with international shipping.

Lastly, a nice side-effect of having a split keyboard is that some space is opened up between the two halves. This space can be used for all sorts of things, such as food, drinks, books or graphics tablets. Very neat!


Over all, I am very happy with my Moonlander! I might have paid quite a bit for keys and lights I am never going to use but this is not too upsetting to me. Should you think about getting one as well? That depends on your circumstances. At $350 US + tolls in your country, the price point is pretty steep. If you are paid to write code, this probably is not too much money for you, especially considering that mechanical keyboards will not break for a long time (and can be quite easy to fix if they do). If you are touch typing, I think you can benefit from the ergonomic features. The programmability is also neat and can make for some fun evenings. How does the Moonlander square up in comparison to similar keyboards, say the ErgoDox EZ? That, I cannot tell you.